As YOOX NET-A-PORTER launches a ground-breaking collaboration with HRH The Prince of Wales and The Prince’s Trust, we talk exclusively to Federico Marchetti, CEO and President of the Group on the future of luxury
HRH The Prince of Wales & YOOX NET-A-PORTER Group Chairman and CEO Federico Marchetti at final collection review at Dumfries House in Sep 2020
Federico Marchetti, Chairman and CEO of YOOX NET-A-PORTER Group has always been one step ahead when it comes to planning for the future. Whether it’s supporting sustainable brands, encouraging the use of traditional artisanal techniques, reducing the carbon footprint of the Group, empowering women or working towards being a 100 per cent renewable energy company, Marchetti’s dedication to building a better future can be seen throughout all of the Group’s platforms. In recent years there have been many projects that highlight this dedication to the cause, but this November YOOX NET-A-PORTER Group unveils one of the most exciting collaborations yet.
The Group has partnered with The Prince’s Foundation on a unique project that brings to light some of these key topics and the shared values of both organisations. Founded by HRH The Prince of Wales, The Prince’s Foundation was set up to create harmonious communities and encourage education with a particular focus on traditional and heritage skills. The Prince’s Foundation’s Future Textiles initiative aims to breathe new life into the UK’s fashion and textile industry to help preserve traditional craft skills such as sewing, weaving, knitting and hand embroidery. The values and goals of The Prince’s Trust and HRH Prince of Wales are perfectly aligned with Federico Marchetti’s vision for the world of luxury. With a mission to preserve tradition artisanal techniques and realign the luxury industry to ensure it is kinder and most preserving of the environment and craftsmanship, as well as putting technology at the forefront of the business the two organisations came together to work on The Modern Artisan project.
YOOX NET-A-PORTER Group has partnered with The Prince’s trust to create a capsule collection of menswear and womenswear designed in Italy and crafted in The United Kingdom by modern artisan trainees. An evolution of the relationship between HRH The Prince of Wales, President of The Prince’s Foundation, and Federico Marchetti, Chairman and CEO of YOOX NET-A-PORTER GROUP, the collection celebrates both the rich heritage and future of British and Italian textile craftsmanship. The Modern Artisan project guides trainee artisans through the process of bringing a luxury collection to market, marrying training in data insights with sustainable practices and traditional production skills to equip the students for their future careers as truly modern artisans.
The project fuses together traditional craftsmanship with digital tools to create a new form of luxury with sustainability at its heart. This unique collaboration also allows from a new generation of talented individuals to prepare for a future that brings together innovation and technology. During the manufacturing process, the artisans learnt advanced technical production skills such as industrial sewing, pattern drafting and quality control, while also developing the expertise to handle wool, cashmere and silk fabrics to ensure garment finishes meet the requirements of the luxury market. The knitwear was designed by the Italian artisans and manufactured at Johnstons of Elgin’s knitwear mill in Hawick, Scotland, where all of the artisans learnt about the British knitwear development process. Throughout the project, the British and Italian artisans collaborated across borders to share knowledge, cultures and experiences to enrich the collection.
Sustainability is at the very heart of the collection, reflecting the shared values of The Prince’s Foundation whose President, HRH The Prince of Wales, has championed action for a sustainable future for more than four decades, and Federico Marchetti, Chairman and CEO of YOOX NET-A-PORTER. The Group has been dedicated to driving sustainability in luxury fashion since 2009. A conscious selection of suppliers and high-quality materials were fundamental to ensure the collection stands the test of time and can be passed down through generations. Natural and organic materials were prioritised, as was end-of-roll, and no synthetic fabrics were used in the collection. Each style is equipped with a digital ID, providing the story behind the product, its materials, the artisans who designed and made it, as well as care and repair recommendations to enable customers to treasure these pieces for years to come.
To ensure the success of the project, the artisans were granted exclusive access to five years’ worth of YOOX NET-A-PORTER data on long-term preferences of the Group’s 4.3 million customers, to create a timeless collection they knew would resonate in the luxury customer’s wardrobe. They learnt how to process image data and use AI visual recognition to inform the styles and silhouettes of their designs. In the womenswear collection, details from the wide legs and midi lengths to the cinched-in waists and pussy bows were design choices informed by customer preferences. Similarly, data-informed the choice of colours in the menswear, from the camel coat to the navy trousers, and influenced defining features such as the drawstring detail at the waist of the casual trousers.
The YOOX NET-A-PORTER for The Prince’s Foundation label launches this month across all four of the companies luxury e-commerce sites: YOOX, NET-A-PORTER, MR PORTER and THE OUTNET and will be part of the Group’s 20th-anniversary celebrations. This is a first for the group and allows the artisans a unique opportunity to debut their world to 4.3 million customers. The collection design, carried out during the 500th anniversary year of the death of Leonardo da Vinci, took inspiration from da Vinci’s work and features 18 pieces for men and women. To find out more about this exciting project A&E talks exclusively to the man behind it all, Federico Marchetti, Chairman and CEO of YOOX NET-A-PORTER Group.
What does it mean to you to be launching this project with The Prince’s Foundation and how are your values as a company aligned with those of HRH Prince of Wales?
The concept for The Modern Artisan was born from a passion that His Royal Highness The Prince of Wales and I share, for educating and investing in the next generation of talent, particularly, in my case, when it comes to harnessing the convergence of technology and luxury fashion.
When HRH The Prince of Wales invited me to Dumfries House in Scotland for the first time I discovered The Prince’s Foundation’s motto, ‘Respecting the past, building the future.’ These are principles that I felt a strong connection to – similar in many ways to those that have driven my work over the last twenty years building YOOX NET-A-PORTER GROUP. They also formed the inspiration for The Modern Artisan project. Our aim was to empower the artisans of tomorrow by marrying the ancient profession of craftsmanship with contemporary technology and data-driven insights. We guided students through the process of what it actually means to design, manufacture and bring a luxury sustainable collection to market and support them to do this work themselves.
They experienced first-hand our shared vision for the future of the fashion industry, one where artisanal skills are nurtured, sustainability is key and collaboration, skills-sharing and the intelligent use of technology and data are combined to make a positive impact on the world we live in.
Can you tell us a little about the experience of working with HRH The Prince of Wales and the process behind choosing the young designers?
It’s a real pleasure to collaborate with HRH The Prince of Wales on this long-term project. I’ve admired his work for a long time. He has been a champion of sustainability for over fifty years. He was already talking about the effects of plastic in 1969, the year I was born! He also has a great interest in our world of fashion, craftsmanship and innovation so throughout the project we found much common ground, from the moment we first met during his visit to our newly opened London Tech Hub, to my proposal for a partnership on this project and the rewarding Modern Artisan journey we’ve all been on since.
We worked closely with the Politecnico di Milano and The Prince’s Foundation to select the artisans. Each of them has their own unique story, with many coming from unusual career paths – for example, Graeme worked in the construction industry for ten years before swapping building for sewing and Nicole was a dancer! Many of our Italian students have already found jobs in great brands following their involvement in the project, Andrea Parolini is now working at Zegna for example, and Andrea De Matteis is working at Max Mara. They are all enormously talented and I expect that we will be hearing much about them in the years to come!
What is the importance of raising awareness of sustainability in the luxury industry with the younger generation today and how do you think this will help us in the future?
I believe we cannot talk about the future without talking about sustainability. The project’s commitment to sustainability is reflective of a common thread running through our work at both YOOX NET-A-PORTER GROUP and The Prince’s Foundation. I believe it is our responsibility to create a sustainable future for fashion and it is absolutely achievable if we remain focused and determined. This belief has driven my efforts in this area for the last 10 years. YOOX NET-A-PORTER has pioneered countless sustainability initiatives, including launching our own sustainable fashion platforms YOOXYGEN at YOOX in 2009 and, more recently, NET SUSTAIN at NET-A-PORTER, as well as creating the first-ever sustainable packaging in fashion; the ECOBOX, eleven years ago. These are just some of our flagship endeavours. As exemplified by The Modern Artisan project, we lead a huge amount of young talent programmes to create a sustainable pipeline of future talent but also to ensure that sustainability, creativity and digital skills are front of mind for the next generation. It feeds into our belief that considerations for people and the planet go hand in hand for a sustainable future – and teaching the next generation the importance of this is essential.
With this project we have created a unique opportunity to train our emerging artisans on the importance of mindful production practices, ensuring that they are briefed on how the use of data and tech in design can enhance sustainability and how to handle high quality, organic materials, so they are already ahead of the sustainability curve when they launch into their career paths. This has been one of the most exciting and rewarding parts of the project and I feel very proud when I hear our artisans say they want to find jobs in businesses and brands that put sustainability at the heart of what they do.
The project brings together British and Italian craftsmanship – What is the importance of sustaining traditional crafts in luxury design and what is the recipe for balancing that with innovation and technology?
The fashion industry can only be successful in the future if we nurture the elements that make it so exciting, creative and impactful. The artisan producers and makers that have long supported our luxury fashion houses with skills perfected over lifetimes are gradually retiring and risk not being replaced by the next generation. So we must learn from tried and tested skills crucial to our industry’s heritage, but also that we understand the importance of sustainability, embracing the power of technology, and are adapting to the changing priorities of the customer. This is only more important today. At YOOX NET-A-PORTER we operate at a unique intersection between human and machine – customer and e-commerce, craftsmanship and digital – and we wanted to bring this symbiotic relationship and understanding to this project and these students, so they are equipped with all the tools they need to succeed in today’s fast-paced digital world.
This partnership also marks the 20th anniversary of YOOX Net-A-Porter – what can you tell us about this landmark anniversary, your biggest achievement so far and what is your vision for the next 20 years?
When I founded the world’s first fashion e-commerce destination in 2000, my vision was to create the shop of my dreams. I wanted to show the world that a luxury fashion experience could exist online. While that is commonly accepted now, twenty years ago it was unheard of.
When I look back over the last twenty years, there have been so many ‘firsts’ for us. When we launched, the first iPhone was still seven years away and it would be a decade before Instagram was founded, that is hard to imagine now. We pioneered the ability for customers to shop straight from the catwalk and in 2006, we launched our first Online Flagship Store with Marni. From there, we have continued to bring our leading technical expertise to the most prestigious luxury fashion brands around the world. I’m incredibly proud of these brand partnerships and the special collaborations we’ve created over the years for our customers. Another big part of our culture is to scout and foster new talent – something that I have personally driven forward over the years.
Naturally, I am also immensely proud of the efforts we have made to advance sustainability in the sector, something we have pioneered since before sustainability was a buzzword! Whether through our sustainable fashion platforms, our packaging, or our young talent programmes, we have pushed the boundaries of sustainability in luxury fashion. In many ways, The Modern Artisan project is a synthesis of the work I have carried forward through the last twenty years.
The collection is inspired by the work of Leonardo Da Vinci – how do you think his works reflect the message of the project?
The period during which the collection was designed fell during the 500th anniversary year of the death of Leonardo da Vinci, who was not only an artistic genius but also an accomplished and ground-breaking scientist. The Modern Artisan project took inspiration from the way that this polymath brought together the worlds of art and science to achieve greatness, something which resonates deeply with the project’s founding principle to empower the artisans of tomorrow by uniting traditional artisanship and heritage skills with tech know-how, data-driven insight and commercial science.
Da Vinci’s work also reflects the notion of cross-border collaboration that is at the heart of the project. In the Codex Atlanticus in Milan, Da Vinci predicted the future invention of a means that would allow mankind to connect and communicate across boundaries with a lingua franca – which I have always imagined to be the internet! In The Modern Artisan project, it has been wonderful to see two groups of people from different countries (many of whom hadn’t visited Scotland or Italy before) come together to share their knowledge and unite in a common goal and passion.
How do you value the importance of timeless pieces in the future of luxury?
I believe we have entered a new age. One that is technological, connected, interactive, but also one that has had to reorder its value hierarchy and rediscover the importance of community and a respect for the environment and nature.
I see a future with fewer collections, less production, less waste, more creativity and more sensitivity. There has of course been a demand for this already, but I hope we will see an acceleration of this. More mindful purchasing; buying quality products that last. Pieces that can be cherished for a lifetime and beyond. To me, that is true luxury.
The Modern Artisan pieces are just that. The design of each piece was informed by data insights from across our Group on long-term customer trends to ensure that they could be worn and loved for many years to come and even passed to the next generation. This data-driven design expertise was then partnered with high-end sustainable manufacturing, using natural single-fibre materials that would stand the test of time. We’ve also used technology to empower our customers to ensure these pieces last – each piece is equipped with a digital ID giving customers transparent information on the product but also detailed recommendations for care and repair.
What is important to me is ensuring that delicate balance of human touch and technology – luxury is about emotion, creativity and beauty while machines are about precision, detail and power – both are fundamental to the future and we have to make conscious choices to find the perfect equilibrium. This is what we taught our Modern Artisans, along with the importance of ensuring that the collection is made to last, in the spirit of our purpose – connecting people with the joy of luxury and fashion that lasts a lifetime and beyond.
This is the first time you have launched a collection across all of the Group’s platforms – how do you think YOOX Net-A-Porter’s platforms can raise awareness of important issues on the future of the industry moving forward?
There is a shared belief that the fashion system must change. We are seeing an acceleration of attitudes towards sustainability and conscious consumerism and we are constantly working to evolve our business accordingly. As innovators, we have designed projects and championed designers that share our mission to invent new solutions that can truly advance the cause. To provide customers with more transparency over the sustainable practises of their favourite brands, we have invested in key initiatives such as YOOXYGEN, MODERN ARTISAN and NET SUSTAIN. As an entrepreneur, I also wholeheartedly believe in holding a hand out to our future talent, be that in technology, design, craftsmanship or sustainability. Whether it is a place for further developing their skills, or showcasing their work, we endeavour to use the YOOX NET-A-PORTER platform to support the next generation as they enter the industry.
What is the key message that you would like readers to take away from this partnership?
I very much hope that the first collection ignites interest amongst today’s fashion and textile students, and encourages them to seek out new skills and to better understand how data technology can play a pivotal role in the design and manufacture of more sustainable collections.
I also hope that the collaboration between the students throughout the project illustrates the importance of sharing skills and working together internationally. It has never been more important to establish friendships and working relationships that go beyond borders, which allow us to broaden our minds to new cultures, experiences and learnings. The collection is a wonderful showcase of Italian design and British craftsmanship.
There are a lot of speculations and uncertainty around how the industry is moving forward especially after this year – in your opinion what is the future of retail?
There is no doubt in my mind that over the next 20 years the industry will be more digital, more personal and more global.
Technology and the pursuit of sustainability will be the driving forces behind much of this change. The intelligent use of technology has the potential to transform how we operate. Robots can be more precise, AI can learn and adapt production to be more targeted, reduce waste and cut-out inefficiencies. If it is implemented in the right way, technology can free up mankind to focus on what really matters, to be more creative, forward-thinking, ambitious, and to support the next generation of inventors, artists, designers and dreamers who will define our future. It is important to recognise that being more digital does not eclipse the value of human connection, personal service and creativity – the Modern Artisan demonstrates how technology can be used to power human endeavour.
What’s a strategy that has proved successful in allowing you to navigate through this challenging year?
The pandemic forced the world to embrace e-commerce more than ever before. As a global business, we saw how the virus was impacting each country. We learnt from our brands and operating teams in different locations – it was as if we had our own, mini-United Nations to guide us through. This meant we could stay one step ahead and apply consistent actions, whilst accounting for particular local differences or demands. Our priority was always to protect our colleagues and community, whilst designing new ways to serve and connect with our customers. We were quick to speak directly to our customers and keep them informed every step of the way. Over the last twenty years, we have built a very strong community; I wrote personally to customers throughout the year, and I have never received so many letters of support.
We had an advantage going into this period. As a tech company, everything was ready. We already had smart working in place across our business, which meant we could shift to this 100% even before global lockdown came in. When this was done, we focused on how we could offer support. We repurposed our vehicles to deliver essentials and medicines to vulnerable communities, we provided laptops and online digital education classes for homeschoolers, and we donated PPE and care packages to the heroes of this crisis; the medical teams. These were just some of the many community initiatives our teams invented and actioned this year. I am incredibly proud of all that we have done to date, and everyone involved at YOOX NET-A-PORTER.
What can you tell us about YOOX NET-A-PORTER in the Middle East?
As one of the fastest-growing global centres for luxury retail, the Middle East is hugely important to YOOX NET-A-PORTER. In a globalised world, personalisation and localisation are key – you have to understand your customers and what they want. Our approach is to partner with the best to unlock this local knowledge, which is why in the Middle East we are delighted to have partnered with Mohamed Alabbar, the Middle East’s undisputed leader for online luxury retail, since 2016. His organisation Symphony Investments has an unmatched knowledge of luxury consumer trends and an extensive network in the region. Our combined strengths give shoppers in the region access to a fantastic luxury assortment with our unparalleled service and content.
Together, we established a local office in Dubai with dedicated sales and marketing, customer care and personal shopping teams to provide Middle Eastern customers with a highly tailored offering, setting a new standard of customer service in the region. We also opened a new Distribution Centre in Dubai powered by our omni-stock techno-logistics platform to guarantee the highest level of service, including premier same-day delivery; and developed a localised offering ranging from Arabic-language customer care and content, as well as local currency and payment methods.
We continue to be very excited about the growth potential of the Middle East and are constantly innovating to ensure we can deliver the best possible experience for our customers in the region.
What is a challenge you have faced this year that others can learn from and how did you overcome it?
The key piece of advice I can give is to stay true to your values – act consciously, ethically and in a human way. We acted quickly and decisively to keep our colleagues and community safe and I believe people remember and appreciate how you act in difficult times.
My other guiding principle is to seek hope. When I wrote to our customers in March, I likened this period to a sailing analogy; as an avid sailor myself, like with all storms, after the wildest part, when all the elements seem to fight each other, the wind drops, the sea calms and you can see the horizon once again. This is when new ideas emerge and new opportunities are possible. It can be difficult in the centre of a storm but as a leader, you have to keep your eyes on the horizon and guide your ship through.
I established a task force on the first day of lockdown to start working on solutions to the main challenges we anticipated. As a global business, virtual collaboration is nothing new for us, so we were able to move quickly. As well as the physical safeguards we put in place, including social distancing, temperature checks and PPE to name a few, we designed and launched new technology solutions. Through our Stay Safe App – developed in house – colleagues now receive up-to-the-minute safety updates and information directly to their mobile devices. The App connects to Safety HUB, a new ecosystem of content and tools to keep colleagues safe, informed and connected throughout the pandemic.
What is a message that you would share to entrepreneurs at the beginning of their journey?
Twenty years ago I brought together two separate worlds: luxury and technology. I wasn’t a techie nor was I a fashion insider, but I saw a fantastic opportunity that no-one else had yet visualised. As an entrepreneur, I’ve been pretty good at guessing what the near-future will bring. I’ve tended to do this by seeing the convergence of unrelated trends before others did, as I spend a lot of time dreaming about the future. Of course, everyone has dreams – what I believe sets entrepreneurs apart is that they don’t just stop with the dream.
For me, when I founded YOOX, I created it as the Shop of my Dreams, with me as customer #1 and I believe after 20 years it is still very contemporary – because I have never stopped dreaming and chasing the future! For instance, I became obsessed with the mobile phone a long time ago: back in the early 90s, I was the first at my university to have one of those giant mobile phones that would barely fit in a backpack. My obsession turned into action when I set up a mobile task force at YOOX in 2006, a year before the first iPhone was launched. Today, our most valuable customers do all their shopping on their phones and we sell well over $1 billion each year via smartphones. I would encourage all entrepreneurs at the beginning of their journey to approach life with this “dreamer” mentality – and turn those dreams into reality by acting decisively.
What is a lesson you will take with you from this year?
I have always been interested in how seemingly opposite worlds can be united to achieve something special – be it cross-border collaboration in Italy and the UK, or working across different sectors, such as luxury fashion and technology, as we do at our Group. The project has shown us what is possible when you unite the ancient profession of the artisan – one of the world’s oldest – with cutting edge technology, creating truly modern artisans ready for our changing world. This is a way of thinking that I will take forward for years to come, not just in how we evolve the business but how I continue to invest time and energy in the next generation entering the industry.
The Modern Artisan collection is available across all YOOX NET-A-PORTER platforms from 12th November 2020.